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Meet Jonathon, one of the oldest living animals on Earth

Credits: Saint Helena Tourist Office

Jonathan is a tortoise from the Seychelles who has been living in Saint Helena since 1882. However, he is estimated to be 186 years old. 

Jonathon’s youth

It is estimated that Jonathon came into the world in 1832, which was the birth year of:

  • Édouard Manet, known as being one of the major painters of the 19th century.
  • Lewis Caroll, the pseudomon under which Charles Lutwidge Dodgos wrote Alice in Wonderland and other works.
  • Gustave Eiffel, who made some rather well known monuments!

Jonathan appears to have been born on the Aldabra coral atoll in the Seychelles. Apart from this, we don’t know much about Jonathon’s early years, until he arrived on the island of Saint Helena in 1882. He was 50 years old at the time.

Jonathan tortue geante seychelles 1886
1886 photo of Jonathon, a prisoner and a guard

The historical context at the time

In 1832, there was still a monarchy in France, the United States and India were at war, and the first cholera epidemic was ravaging Europe.

All of that to say that this tortoise has certainly lived through some varied times!

The tortoise’s place on the island

jardin de jonathan la tortue
Credits: Saint Helena Tourist Office

Since his arrival, Jonathon has resided in the gardens of Plantation House, the seat of the government of Saint Helena. Jonathon is a star on the island, and a tourist attraction for the rest of the world. His is so widely renowned that the 5 cent coins feature his effigy.

In 2006, he became the oldest living animal in the world, following the death of Adwaita, the Seychelles tortoise (thought to be 225 years old, although this was never confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records). Seychelles tortoises generally die at around 150 years of age. So whether it’s Adwaita or Jonathon, both of them are exceptional cases.

Jonathan 2014
Photo of Jonathon in September 2014. Credits: David Stanley/Common Files Wikipedia

The explanation for this tortoise’s exceptional longevity?

Jonathon’s current vet, Catherine Man, believes that if Jonathon has lived for so long, it is because he doesn’t have any stress in his life in the governmental gardens! His fruit and vegetable based diet is prepared on site by the cooks. “He probably has better quality fruit and vegetables that the inhabitants of the island”, she claims!

Repas de Jonathan
Credits: Saint Helena Tourist Offic

The tortoise is now blind and has practically no sense of smell, but his personality has stayed the same. His last fit of rage appears to have been in 1991: his vet at the time reported that Jonathon overturned benches and became irritable. In order to calm him, he was put in the company of four other tortoises from the Seychelles: Emma, David, Myrtle and Frederick. Nowadays, Jonathon and Frederick appear to be living in a platonic but loving relationship, as the two are almost never seen apart. Jonathon is also sometimes with Emma.

“I regularly hear him frolicking on the lawn with Emma. But I need to keep an eye on them when they get too active, because tortoises can end up turning onto their backs and never again getting up. This wasn’t in my job description!” says Lisa Philips, the governor of the island, who lives at Plantation House.

Seychelles land tortoises: an endangered species

Even though they are the largest land tortoises in the world, Seychelles tortoises are in fact an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The only place on Earth where these tortoises are still naturally present, without having been reintroduced to the area, is on the Aldabra atoll. It is estimated that there are still 150,000 living specimens on this atoll, which measures 155.4 km2. This could even be considered over-population. The number of newborn tortoises is greatly reduced, as the species self-regulates its birth rate, in order to avoid crossing a certain threshold, after which the island would no longer be able to feed them. Thus, the under-population of young turtles is a concern for scientists.

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